Everything comes in threes in The Legend of Zelda universe. There are the three Golden Goddesses, three mirror shards, three sacred flames and three Spiritual Stones to name a few. Of course, there are also the three parts of the Triforce and their corresponding virtues of power, wisdom and courage.
Hyrule Historia reveals that the timeline also comes in three; with the chronology splitting into three continuums following Ocarina of Time. These splits in the timeline all originate from Link pulling the Master Sword, Ganondorf entering the Sacred Realm and the fallout from that. Could it be that the Triforce and an old Sheikah legend can rationalize the three-way timeline split?
This is the story of the Triforce that Sheik imparts to Link in Ocarina of Time:
The Triforce...the sacred triangle... it is a balance that weighs the three forces: Power, Wisdom and Courage. If the heart of the one who holds the sacred triangle has all three forces in balance, that one will gain the True Force to govern all. But, if that one's heart is not in balance, the Triforce will separate into three parts: Power, Wisdom and Courage. Only one part will remain for the one who touched the Triforce...the part representing the force that one most believes in. If that one seeks the True Force, that one must acquire the two lost parts. Those two parts will be held within others chosen by destiny, who will bear the Triforce mark on the backs of their hands. – Sheik
Could this scenario cause much more significant splits than just in the Triforce? Could the separating of the Triforce into three pieces also tear the fabric of existence into three alternative realities or dimensions? Each of the three splits following Ocarina of Time can be attributed to each of the wielders of the Triforce and their virtues.
If Link uses his courage to overcome the King of Darkness, then Ganon is sealed within the Sacred Realm leading to the events of The Wind Waker. However, if Ganondorf uses his power to defeat Link then the Imprisoning War occurs, leading into the events of A Link to the Past. Finally, if Zelda uses her wisdom, she sends Link back in time to stop Ganondorf before he even begins, leading into Majora’s Mask.
Each timeline very distinctly corresponds with each divine virtue of the Triforce. It is a very nice concept in how it sounds, but whether it actually holds merit as a legitimate theory is another question. It nicely ties the timeline to the virtues, but does the old Sheikah legend neglect to mention that the repercussion of splitting the Triforce is splitting existence itself?
We must remember that the Triforce was actually in three separate parts in Skyward Sword and was not complete until Link obtained all three pieces. Ganondorf’s invasion of the Sacred Realm in Ocarina of Time is neither the first time the Triforce has been utilized, nor was it the first time it wasn’t together. It was; however, the first time it was split since becoming one.
Another point to consider is the nature of the Triforce in relation to the timelines. With the split in the timeline, does the Triforce become duplicated across all three timelines, or is there only one true Triforce that the wilders on each timeline merely tap in to?
Such a notion reflects the more spiritual nature of the Triforce (as in Ocarina of Time), whereas games like The Wind Waker and the original convey that the Triforce is very literally a physical object. It comes back to the question of whether the Goddesses are above the timeline split, or are even they duplicated?
Let us suppose that all three timeline splits are indeed in-universe, and merely alternate dimensions of existence. Technically speaking, this would means that it is possible for a future Legend of Zelda title to take place across multiple, or all three, timelines.
The scope and implications of such a story would be complex, and so most likely avoided by Nintendo, but it could work if executed well. Zelda is no stranger to time and realm travel, so the possibility is there.
In conclusion, while using the virtues of the Triforce adds a nice, almost story-book, explanation to the three way split, it is more just flowery language than any solid theoretical basis. There is no evidence that a split in the Triforce also splits reality. It is not an impossibility, but remains merely a nice idea to entertain over a legitimate explanation.
Thanks to Tony Thielen and Liquidus for their comments on a recent article that served as the basis for the theory in this piece.